This has been an offseason of many, many names. After a 2012 off season that saw zero players signed out of high school, this time the three graduating seniors (Abdul Gaddy, Aziz N’Diaye, Scott Suggs) are rotating out, and a whole mass of other players are stepping in to take their places.
There are the two transfers that sat out 2012 in compliance with NCAA transfer rules, 6’9″ power forward Perris Blackwell from the University of San Francisco and Gilles Dierickx (I still don’t know how to pronounce his name) originally of Belgium but more recently from Florida International. Blackwell will have one year of eligibility, and figures to make a large impact, perhaps even in the starting lineup. Dierickx has two years of remaining eligibility, but at this point he appears to be more of a role-player.
Then, of course, there is the fairly large Class of 2013. The most highly touted of them all, Nigel Williams-Goss, is a 6’3″ point guard out of Findley Prep (originally from Oregon) who was a consensus four-star type at the time of his commitment around this time last year. But over the last few months his stock has risen, from his undefeated season at Findley to his solid play in the McDonald’s All-American game. With recruiting rankings totally settled, Rivals and Scout still have him as a four-star, but Rivals pegs him at No. 6 in their point guard rankings, with Scout a little less optimistic at 10th. ESPN is very, very high on NWG. They list him as the No. 4 point guard, the No. 19 overall 2013 prospect, and award him five stars. Rankings are flawed, and can often be flat-out wrong, but NWG does look likely to receive serious playing time in his first year, and may even find himself starting.
Though he may be the most talked about prospect in Washington’s 2013 haul, he is certainly not the only one. Romar also signed Jahmel Taylor, a 5’11” scoring point guard out of Pacific Hills in LA. He is a consensus three-star kid, so there hasn’t been much hype around him, but his highlights (whatever those really tell you) are solid, and at this point it seems dangerous to doubt Romar and his under-6′ guards.
Mike Anderson, a 6’5″ JUCO swingman from Moberly Area CC in Missouri, who I recently discussed in this post, has also been signed, and his efficient 50/40/80 shooting percentages and 17-point, 10-rebound per game averages have me excited that he will be a solid contributor off the bench, with the potential to do even more.
But there is also one final element to this class, a guy that has been lost a bit in the shadow of Nigel Williams-Goss, someone who I myself have sometimes nearly forgotten about in the shuffle of names this offseason: Darin Johnson, the 6’4″ shooting guard out of Sheldon High School in Sacramento, Ca. He has great size and length for a shooting guard, and seems to fit the mold of successful scoring guards in Romar’s system. He has a good outside shot (in fact, Johnson’s high school coach called him a “Ray Allen-like shooter” in this Percy Allen piece), and above average athleticism. Dude can fly a little bit.
As far as what the recruiting experts think? Scout and Rivals awarded him four stars, while ESPN stuck with three. Despite the difference, all three sights have him pegged between #22 and #25 in the Class of 2013 shooting guard rankings. According to Rivals, he also held offers from a ton of West Coast programs, including UCLA, Gonzaga, Oregon, and San Diego State.
I didn’t write this post to serve as some sort of hype-man for Johnson, to over inflate expectations for his freshman year. While Romar has specifically stated that he expects Johnson to contribute as a freshman, it seems fairly likely that his contributions will come off of the bench in this first upcoming season. But, as baseless as this may sound, something about Johnson’s demeanor, both on the court and in interviews, and the style of his game has me thinking that he will adjust to college very well, and serve as a dependable scorer off the bench from near the beginning of his career.
If you didn’t follow the link to the Percy Allen story, do it. Johnson states that he signed with Washington because Romar is a coach he can relate to, because he enjoys his honesty and straightforward nature, and because he wants to get to the NBA, and knows that Romar has had success developing league-bound scoring guards. To me, those are the exact reasons a kid should be interested in UW, and to see that Johnson sees this so clearly, while it obviously has no direct impact on his basketball talent, is also encouraging
Assuming I’m correct, and Johnson’s skill and attitude allow him to play solid minutes off the bench, he will be another part of the solution to a problem discussed in the aforementioned Mike Anderson post: a lack of fundamental, dependable players, especially off the bench. Watching last year’s team, it was sometimes surprising to me that they won as many games as they did, simply because their on-court performances were so much uglier than their sub-par record.
Guys just played stupid, often passionless basketball. I’ve gone into this a lot, but it’s worth mentioning again. Terrible free throw percentages almost every game, a lack of hustle in transition, the allowing of back-door dunk after back-door dunk, saving the ball in bounds under their own basket.
And beyond this lack of mental toughness and hustle, there were also big issues with the make-up of the team. The starting lineup struggled badly to put up efficient points due to a lack of scoring aside from jumpers. No one could be depended on to score in the post (N’Diaye was solid, but his inability to catch the ball and his constant turnovers hurt. Kemp also began to develop a post-game late in the year, but it is still a work in progress), and with no one able to put pressure on the defense with inside scoring from the guard position, that meant highly contested jumpers from Wilcox and Suggs. There is a reason Wilcox regressed so badly. He wasn’t open after a possession of running around screens, because he was the only guy defenses had to worry about.
And when the starters turned over the ball or threw up clunkers, Romar couldn’t turn to his very thin bench and expect a change. This year, while there is a lack of defined roles and even experience with three starters graduating, there will be no shortage of solid basketball players. So many, in fact, that there is bound to be near starter-quality contributors off of the bench.
With Mike Moser headed to Oregon, the chance that Perris Blackwell gets a starting spot alongside, presumably, Shawn Kemp Jr, seems higher. So play along with me and assume, though it is in no way guaranteed, that the starting lineup next season is Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, C.J. Wilcox, Perris Blackwell, and Shawn Kemp Jr. Depending on just how well NWG and Blackwell play, and how much Andrews and Kemp improve, that isn’t a top-flight starting five. But do you realize who that would leave on the bench?
In the frontcourt, Desmond Simmons would be there to sub in for rebounding and defense. Jernard Jarreau, an intriguing player due to his shooting touch and length, but someone held back by his thin frame, would be there as well. Gilles Dierickx, if he’s really a player capable of getting minutes, would be a sort of wildcard thrown in there as well.
In the backcourt, the bench contributors would be, in my opinion, more exciting. Mike Anderson, who judging by his JUCO stats is capable of scoring from everywhere on the floor while also rebounding much harder than the average two or three, would be there. Darin Johnson, who I just spoke pretty highly of, would be there.
With both Andrews and NWG capable of playing point guard in shuffled lineups, Romar would have a well-rounded nine man rotation right there, with NWG, Andrews, Wilcox, Blackwell, Kemp, Simmons, Jarreau, Anderson, and Johnson.
That would leave Dierickx out of the rotation, but for all I know he would be ahead of Jarreau, or simply serve as a tenth man in Romar’s pocket. This scenario would also allow him to redshirt Jahmel Taylor, while leaving Hikeem Stewart, who has given me no reason to believe he’ll crack the rotation, and walk-ons Dion Overstreet and Quinn Sterling on the far end of the bench.
Having Moser in that starting lineup would have obviously made the depth much more impressive, and the team more of a threat to compete for the Pac-12 tournament. But now that he’s a done deal to Oregon, this is where the Huskies stand (Unless Romar adds another JUCO player).
How well the rotation I just laid out actually performs next year will vary widely. On the development in returning players like Kemp and Andrews, who showed a ton of potential last year but who were still very raw. On the ability of Williams-Goss and Johnson to come in and play Pac-12 level basketball in their first year on campus. On the successful transition from smaller schools to the big-time for transfers Mike Anderson (coming from a community college) and Perris Blackwell (much less of an issue, coming from the WCC).
But unless they all fall way short of reasonable expectations, this team looks miles ahead of last year’s sorry squad, and to me it looks like year one of a return to the “Romar Way,” even if it may be a rough return at times.
With such a deep bench, Romar can rest his starters early and often. He won’t need to play his best guys into the ground like he did last year (when despite a nagging injury, Wilcox played 34.8 minutes a game, more than any player in the Romar era). Everyone will be fresh, and combined with the subtraction of the placid seniors and the addition of natural leader NWG and a greater role for the fiery Andrews, it should mean a more aggressive squad on offense and defense.
Does that mean they’ll win the Pac-12? Probably not. But they will have serious potential, and should grow over the course of the year, and after last year’s purgatorial season, that is big-time progress.